Trishna (review)

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Trishna Riz Ahmed Freida Pinto

Classic tragic story is still classic, tragic when moved to the modern world. Director Michael Winterbottom completes a Thomas Hardy trilogy — after 1996’s Jude and 2000’s The Claim — with this stunning new adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, set in contemporary India and highlighting, in a way that is both magnificent and horrifying, how little some of the world has changed from the era of the novel, more than a century ago. Hardy’s tale [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] of a naive young peasant woman and the rich city man who takes advantage of her barely needs to be altered to achieve the same devastating impact… though Winterbottom (The Killer Inside Me), who wrote the script, cleverly condenses Hardy’s much more sprawling story in a way that maximizes suspense even for those familiar with the novel. Trishna (Freida Pinto: Immortals) leaps at the chance to take a job in a faraway city that will support her family after her father has a road accident that leaves him laid up and in debt (he must pay for the truck he totalled), and it seems like a nice bonus that it’s at a hotel owned by Jay (rising star Riz Ahmed: Black Gold), a handsome young Brit playing with his Indian father’s fortune. They fall in love, but after that first blush of romance fades, their relationship transforms into something much more “traditional,” in a most unpleasant and unjust way. As if, perhaps, Winterbottom wanted to underscore an unalterable human truth, it’s the one slight edge in self-determination that the 21st century affords Trishna — something that Hardy’s Tess never had — is what eventually enrages Jay: he will brook no affront to his power over Trishna. Winterbottom’s breezy approach early on, while hope still reigns for both lovers, and cheerful, airy performances by Pinto and Ahmed narrow into something emotionally claustrophobic later, as their relationship becomes a monster that can only end badly. This is an uncomfortable film, and in places shocking, and an absolute must-see.

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